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Although its license plate is still attached, just where this vehicle came from is a mystery to many who drive by it. Located in front of the Claremont Mobile Home Park and Highway 70 in Quincy, this abandoned vehicle has been the target of anyone interested in smashing auto glass. Photo by Victoria Metcalf

Abatement committee offers ideas about getting rid of abandoned vehicles

After a while some abandoned vehicles just become part of the landscape, but they’re still unwelcome blights according to people who are trying to find someone to get rid of them.

Approximately 30 abandoned vehicles and recreational vehicles are found here and there throughout Plumas County.

They’ve been unofficially discussed by at least one member of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors — Lori Simpson.

They’ve been pointed out to the California Highway Patrol and to deputies and sergeants with the sheriff’s office.

People have brought up the difficulties in determining if a vehicle is abandoned or stolen, whose responsibility it is, and what to do with it.

Finally, Plumas County Building Services Director Chuck White discussed the situation and what’s being done.

“Abandoned vehicles have been an issue in the county for a very long time, even when I lived in the county before, back in the ’90s, there were many of them,” White said speaking as a member of the county’s Abatement Committee.

White said that members hadn’t counted just how many vehicles have been left around Plumas County, but he agreed that 30 seemed “a good place to start.”

“The biggest issues we have had with abating vehicles are that we haven’t had consistent access to a licensed dismantler,” White explained recently.

The price of scrap metal is dropping and the costs of towing a vehicle away and finding a place to leave it continue to increase, he added.

CHP officer Trevor Cahill, who’s been assigned to the abandoned vehicles case, explained the department’s dilemma. The CHP doesn’t have funding to cover the cost of towing a vehicle. If the vehicle’s abandoned, there often isn’t an owner available to charge the cost of towing to. And if a licensed tow company agrees to move an abandoned vehicle, they don’t get reimbursed.

“It’s a huge problem,” Cahill said. The cost also revolves around the type of vehicle it is — whether it’s a sedan or a truck or an SUV — and where it’s located.

  The number of hours involved by the CHP in investigating whether the vehicle is abandoned or stolen and if an owner can be located, is involved in the price of moving the vehicle.

In Sacrament it might cost $200 to $250 to tow a vehicle, but “up here because we’re so far from anything” it costs a lot more, Cahill said.

Dismantlers in Chico and Reno won’t come here to pick up vehicles, White said. There isn’t enough to be earned from a scrap yard to cover the expenses.

And even if there’s money to tow the vehicle, or if the licensed tow company owner volunteers to tow it for free, it’s difficult to find a place to leave a vehicle.

“Auto dismantlers are more heavily regulated by the state through DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) than they are by county planning and zoning ordinance,” White said in response to a question about salvage yards that used to be around and no longer exist. One that used to be near Mill Creek closed more than 10 years ago, White said.

What White called “Private Salvage Yards,” could be construed as part of the problem. With these an individual might acquire a number of unregistered, operable or inoperable vehicles. These could be stored and dismantled on private property without the proper zoning, permitting or licensing.

“We have a few vehicle hoarders here in the county that we are dealing with,” White said.

With no one from out of the area willing to come to Plumas County to tow vehicles, that leaves residents “with using a local licensed dismantler in good standing and operating within county and state ordinances,” White explained.

At one time Plumas County did have an abatement contract with the Bone Yard in Greenville. Then two years ago that business closed, according to White. “Since then the county has not had access to a dismantler, which is absolutely key to making this program work,” he said.

More recently Michael Lazar purchased the Bone Yard and he has gotten the proper licensing and permits to operate it within California, according to White. “At this time they are still dividing their time between two states and continuing to set up the Greenville location to take vehicles.”

“After discussions with the CHP, the new owner of the Bone Yard, and the tow companies, county counsel has begun drafting new contracts that the (abatement) committee hopes to have for review soon,” White said.

Once the new contract is in place the abandoned vehicle abatement program can move forward.

But this process also includes approval by the CHP and the State Controller’s Office vehicle abatement program. Initial costs for removing a vehicle from one location to an approved yard is paid by the program with funds provided by the state, White said.

“But let me make this absolutely clear, the abatement program has the ability and obligation to recover those costs from the last registered vehicle owner or property owner where the vehicles were taken from,” White said. “The program and its administrators also have power to seek recovery through debt collection and/or property liens,” White continued to explain.

Despite having a location to take a vehicle, there is still the expense of having it towed.

“I would strongly suggest that if anyone has vehicles on their property and they have the titles or legal ownership of the vehicles with the proper lien paperwork through DMV, that they self-abate those vehicles by contacting tow companies and have them taken to a licensed dismantler,” White recommended.

The new operator of Axle’s Bone Yard is taking abandoned vehicles by appointment only, White said. That number is 530-284-7221 or email [email protected].

Owner Michael Lazar said that people need to let the phone ring a while for it to pick up. He’s still between businesses, so he might be harder to reach.

Lazar also said that he doesn’t want anyone to just drop off a vehicle without previous contact. And he doesn’t accept RVs.

Members of the abatement committee include Supervisors Kevin Goss and Sharon Thrall, White, and city of Portola representatives Tom Cooley and Susan Scarlett.

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